There's a theory that human evolution has reached a point where the major changes our species exhibits will all be behaviour-related. This is similar -- hardware changes are slowing down but the introduction of Galaxy AI could be the major driver of Samsung's handsets going forward. This remains Samsung's most advanced device but if you own last year's model, you can also give it a skip.
There’s a reason why Samsung charges more for its Ultra handsets than any other phone (besides the folding ones) in its stable and the Galaxy S24 Ultra is no different. This is the very pinnacle of Samsung’s hardware for 2024 and, therefore, it’s also the best Android phone to launch this year. And it’s only February.
We’re guessing on that whole ‘best Android phone this year’ thing, obviously, but history has shown that Samsung usually wins the race early in the year. Smartphone releases have produced some diminishing returns for the South Korean tech maker of late, however. Sure, it’s the best, but the gap between handsets has been narrowing for years. Something new was needed. Has Samsung gone novel enough in 2024?
That… depends. There are several notable changes to the Galaxy S24 Ultra over its immediate predecessor(s), including an actual visual change. These are relatively rare in Smartphone Land and are worth paying attention to on their own. We don’t mean there’s anything new concerning camera or port placement. Nor has the S Pen moved from its customary home in the base of the phone. But Samsung’s levelled out the screen and rear panel, resulting in a flatter smartphone in 2024.
There’s still some curve to be seen but it’s all along the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s edges. Which, by the way, are also new. Titanium adorns the Ultra’s edges, making for a tougher smartphone without any significant uptick in the weight in your pocket. It also lets Samsung vie directly with Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max in terms of featured bullet points. We’re sure that’s entirely coincidental.
Expect the usual ports and keys, a slight bulge where the camera sensors stick out (we’re almost convinced that this is to convince you to buy a case), and a series of newly named shades. Our review unit was Titanium Amber… because plain old ‘Yellow’ isn’t allowed on a spec sheet.
Your only option
If you’ve become used to the latest Snapdragon chipset in your Samsung, the Ultra is the only place you’ll find it in 2024. The smaller handsets have stepped back to the Samsung-made Exynos but you’ll have no cause for complaint when it comes to speed on any of these devices. It’ll chew up tasks and games and spit out results or frames respectively. It’s remarkable how unremarkable that’s become.
This is just us saying that the Galaxy S24 Ultra doesn’t do anything new here. It’s a monster of a phone but when the previous four handsets have also been monsters, it stops being scary and starts being something you can take for granted.
The same thing goes for the excellent 6.8in screen adorning the S24 Ultra’s front. It’s more or less identical to last year’s display in terms of features, only Samsung is styling it a ‘dynamic LPTO AMOLED’ this year as if that wasn’t the case stretching back years. Peak brightness has been given a substantial boost and this is definitely visible compared to previous handsets in the lineup. It’s no device-selling feature but it’s good to have regardless.
So you thought that last year’s camera was a world-beater, did you? That’s fantastic because it’s back for another round in 2024. The Galaxy S24 Ultra makes one very minor tweak, swapping out the 10MP periscope telephoto lens responsible for optical zoom out for a 50MP unit that features less… optical zoom…? Sure, okay. More megapixels means more for Samsung’s software to work with (more on that in a second) but it does take some of the functionality out of your hands.
In practical terms, you could just head back to last year’s review and read the camera portion. Substitute the mention of “10x optical zoom” for “5x optical zoom” and you’re most of the way to seeing what Samsung’s camera is capable of. It’s excellent, if you can’t be bothered to click the link above, but it’s also something we’ve seen before. If only there was some extremely novel feature to examine…
The elephant in the room
Here’s where Samsung’s device starts to stand out from what’s come before. We could make all manner of quips about how the hardware changes are less substantial every year but Galaxy AI is something genuinely new. It’ll also come to older smartphones at some point (some of it, anyway) but for now, if you want Samsung’s smartest, you’ll pay for a new phone to get it.
We’ve spoken a fair amount about what sort of features Galaxy AI adds to your phone but it’s another thing to see them in action. It may “only” be advanced image editing, translation, and transcription services but a little time with the Galaxy S24 Ultra will give you some idea of how useful they could be. Of course, the ability to automatically transcribe the audio recorded by Samsung’s own Recorder app is squarely aimed at media types like us so we’re bound to be captivated.
If you’re regularly talking to folks who speak other languages, the S24 Ultra (and the others in the series) can automatically translate both written and spoken communication. This is less useful for South Africans, given the introductory languages supported. English, obviously, is one but you won’t find any other South African languages on the list. Hindi? Sure? Simplified Chinese? Why not? Japanese? That’ll make watching unsubbed, undubbed anime a sinecure. There’s also a collection of European tongues, Vietnamese, and Korean if you need them, but using this feature is the tricky bit.
There’s one more notable Galaxy AI feature, designed to make it simple to buy items from the internet. Circle to Search lets you draw a circle with the S Pen and it’ll find that item — someone else’s shoes, a t-shirt, basically anything branded — for sale. Otherwise, it’ll do its best to provide info about whatever you’ve circled. It’s possible to screw with it but you’ll be marking blatantly generic portions of an image for no good reason. Kinda defeats the point, yeah?
Samsung has also baked in several image editing functions provided by Galaxy AI. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is capable of generating its own slow-mo footage, missing frames being (mostly competently) interpolated using AI wizardry. It’s also possible to yank subjects out of a frame, with the missing section being automagically filled in using… AI. No more asking a compliant Twitter Photoshop account to crop your ex from that one image you really like. AI-generated watermarks are also a thing. You can sidestep them, but it takes effort.
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra verdict
Do you absolutely need Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra? Nope. But that’s been true of Samsung flagships for years. Most folks don’t need the overwhelming power these phones bring to market. The introduction of Galaxy AI means that most buyers will be using their handsets more extensively than they ever have before but if you’re fine with waiting to get your hands on Samsung’s artificial intelligence, you can hang onto your Galaxy S23 Ultra. Heck, probably even the S22 Ultra is worth keeping for another cycle.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is Samsung’s most advanced phone ever. If you’ve been playing with the idea of trying an S-series handset for the first time, this is a great place to start. Provided you’re okay with parting ways with at least R30,000, this will be all the phone you need for the next two years or so. Even longer, if Samsung’s assurances of seven years of software support sound like something you could get behind.